From abortion access to the economy; What the Biden campaign is watching for this Election Day

ByMJ Lee and Kevin Liptak
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
What's at stake across the country as voters go to the polls
Voters are casting ballots in key races across the country, with abortion access and the economy on voters minds.

President Joe Biden and his team at the White House are closely watching Tuesday's elections to determine what - if anything - can be discerned about the electorate a year out from the presidential contest.

Amid a fresh round of troubling polls and Democratic hand-wringing, few, if any, Democrats on the ballot Tuesday have tied themselves to Biden, even as some embrace his accomplishments. The president himself has not campaigned at all this election season, focused instead on foreign crises and promoting his own agenda - miles away from any competitive race.

Yet some of the very issues Biden's campaign believe will define next year's contest - including abortion rights and the economy - are being weighed both directly and indirectly. For the president and his advisers, Tuesday's results will be a test of those issues' saliency heading into 2024.

And while Tuesday's key races are not in the battleground states that will determine next year's presidential winner, they each do provide clues that Biden's team will look to as they calibrate their strategy. Turnout among young people and minorities, key to Biden's coalition, will be closely watched as polls indicate a dramatic softening of support.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and former Gov. Nikki Haley during a GOP presidential primary debate, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In Virginia, where all 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot, Biden's team is watching closely to see how successful Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin was in pushing for early voting - a marked break from the GOP's position in 2020, when then-President Donald Trump vilified mail-in and early voting efforts.

Suburban swing districts also played an outsized role in propelling Biden to victory in 2020, meaning results in places such as Stafford and Fredericksburg counties in Virginia will be closely monitored by Democrats for national implications.

Virginia has also become a test case for reproductive rights as Youngkin pushes for a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with some exceptions. In Ohio, voters will decide on an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the state's constitution.

Biden's team is watching both closely to see how much abortion is still a motivating message heading into 2024. A series of state referendums and last year's midterm elections validated their belief that the issue is a salient one, and it's expected to factor heavily into Biden's reelection argument next year.

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Vice President Kamala Harris has been a key spokesperson for the Biden White House on the issue of abortion rights. In a radio interview Tuesday, she pointed to the races in Virginia and Ohio as areas where abortion is on the ballot.

"Virginia is now the only state in the south without an abortion ban. But Virginia Republicans tried to pass one, and Gov. Youngkin said he would sign any ban that gets to his desk. When we think about what that means to take away the right of a woman to make decisions, having the freedom to make decision with her pastor or priest or her Rabbi but not having her government tell her what to do. It's a very big issue," she said during an appearance on "Joe Madison The Black Eagle" on Sirius XM airing Tuesday, making a last-minute appeal to Black voters on Election Day.

Tuesday's election, she added, "is about making decisions about whether we are going to have leaders who agree that people deserve their freedoms, including the freedom to make decisions about their own body."

While Harris has been on a tour of college campuses in recent weeks looking to rally younger, diverse voters, Biden has stuck to a mostly economic message as he also contends with a crisis in the Middle East. Over the past week, he's made stops in Minnesota and Delaware promoting his economic achievements to small audiences at a hog farm and a rail facility.

A litany of polls show his economic message is failing to resonate, even as inflation eases and hiring remains strong. In new surveys over the weekend, Biden was trailing Trump - his most likely Republican challenger - in a handful of key battleground states. That's despite much of Biden's record, including new infrastructure and climate investments, being widely popular.

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President Joe Biden greets audience members after speaking at the Amtrak Bear Maintenance Facility, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Bear, Del.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In deep-red Kentucky, the state's Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, is battling for reelection by running on much of Biden's agenda, including new infrastructure projects, while distancing himself from the president himself. Biden's aides believe Beshear has been largely successful in running as his own person, embracing aspects of Biden's agenda rather than tying himself to the unpopular president.

At 45, Beshear is thirty-five years Biden's junior. Polls have shown voters expressing deep concerns about the 80-year-old president's age, even as they approve of some of his agenda like the infrastructure projects Beshear has been touting during his campaign.

In her radio interview Tuesday, Harris was also pressed on ongoing voter apprehension about the president's age, which continue to drag down Biden's poll numbers. Pointing to infrastructure, the climate, health care and tax law, and HBCU funding as examples of his accomplishments, she suggested voters should not measure Biden by the number on his birth certificate.

"I just say to folks, listen - watch - let's not get distracted. Let's look at whether we have a president who has actually produced and followed through on his commitments, and especially on longstanding issues that needed to be addressed. Joe Biden has done that. That's the measure of the man, not what's on his birth certificate in terms of his age," she said.

CNN's Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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